What are the marks of a great athlete? Passion, faith and the ability to remain a dreamer. Passion that burns as much as your muscles do, faith in your journey, abilities and in others, and focus on what you’ve always dreamt of accomplishing or experiencing.
Jockey Diane Crump proved to be a great athlete, displaying a passion stronger than many of her peers. This history-making athlete spent her younger years living not far from a thoroughbred horse farm. She spent mornings before school at the farm and would head back after school. At the young age of 11, Crump’s passion shone through as she aimed to learn all she could about horses. As she became familiar with the horses, her responsibilities with them grew. Crump took interest in caring for sore horses- raising a certain one until it was ready to race at age three.
Nelson Zambito, a local horse trainer, would take Crump with him when the horses were competing. This gave Crump a real taste of the excitement of the sport and what was to come.
After graduating night school, Crump applied for a jockey’s license in 1968 with little encouragement. Upon returning to Florida, Crump’s abilities met with opportunities, eventually making history.
Crump’s journey to her dream was one of great challenge and determination. “I would have to gallop an unlimited amount of horses to be able to ride one in a race,” explains Crump, “I had to be able to get on anything, from horses that ran off, reared up or acted crazy or whatever, time after time to prove that I was capable”
The aspiring jockey took on difficult horses constantly to prove her abilities were up to those of the male jockeys. “I basically got on all the horses that no one else wanted to ride!”
Crump took any opportunity that came her way in order to get closer to her dream of competing in the Kentucky Derby. Despite hearing constant negativity from many, Crump maintained a high level of motivation. “I completely ignored all negative reactions. I was on a mission and nothing anyone could say or do would change that.”
Crump would remain focused on her dream, using her own methods to stay on the path to success. “I was self-motivated and following my dreams!”
She has shared that her strong faith has kept her on path and helped her deal with the stress of competing at such an intense, high level.
“I am pretty laid back, so I would say I just worked harder, and prayed more and left it in the Lord’s Hands. That has always been the answer for me.”
Although there was much negativity about what Crump did, she had a strong support system backing her up. “I would say that Mary Kiem a woman trainer when I was first trying to ride was a big supporter. Also Don Divine, my late x-husband and Mr. Lyons Brown that owned Fathom, the horse that I rode in the Derby were main supporters.”
It was Mr. Lyons Brown that went out on a limb and gave Crump the opportunity to achieve her dream.
“I think that any rider that ever rode races has dreamed about riding in the Kentucky Derby.”
On February 7, 1969, Crump became the first female to compete in the Kentucky Derby at Hialeah Park, previously a men’s only club. Her entry alone showed how huge of a feat she was about to achieve. Escorted by police, Crump navigated a crazed crowd toward the paddock.
“The only thing that was going through my mind as I was being escorted to the paddock was that my dream was really getting to come true!”
Racing a horse not bred to go that far, Crump placed 15th out of 17 horses. Mr. Lyons Brown had help from Crump and her husband with training horses. His health began to decline and he shared his own dream of having one of his horses compete in the Kentucky Derby. It was Mr. Brown’s dream that allowed Crump the opportunity to live out her own dream.
Crump’s goals remained the same as before the Kentucky Derby.
“My goal before and after the Derby was to ride as much as I possibly could and win as many races as I could.”
Through hard work, dedication, and faith, Crump would experience 230 victories throughout her career.
“Determination, hard work and doing your very best is what any job is all about. I say to anyone, that God gave us all a special gift. That gift is what you love with all your heart and if you follow that dream you will accomplish God’s Will for your life. No matter where it leads you and what adversity you have to overcome, you will know that your life was a success.”
Today, Crump puts her knowledge and passion into her business, Diane Crump Equine Sales, Inc.
Crump has shared her hopes for other athletes. “When we do our best and try our hardest we earn that respect in any sport. I pray that any and all female riders, athletes and anyone that has a dream, will follow that dream with a passion and never give up.”
Perhaps the best way to make strides toward equality in sports (and in life) is to simply compete, and do your personal best. If you compete for yourself, to achieve your own goals, you will experience success. Crump competed for herself with the simple intent of doing her very best, fueled by a sheer love for the sport.
“I just loved riding, it was truly my passion. I think when you are living in the moment you don’t think about the cause and effect (so to speak)!”
Crump didn’t set out to be a history-making female, but simply pursued her passion.
“If they pursue it with all their heart, they will accomplish things they never knew were possible.”